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5 things we learned: Time for the Celtics to make a change in the middle 12.05.14 at 9:56 pm ET
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Tyler Zeller dominated in the Celtics' lopsided win over the Lakers. (Getty Images)

Tyler Zeller dominated in the Celtics‘ lopsided win over the Lakers. (Getty Images)

The Lakers made their only trip of the season to the TD Garden on Friday night, and the fans turned out to see them. But in a building with a surprising number of Laker fans, the home team delivered a commanding performance against Kobe Bryant‘s squad, as the Celtics won, 113-96.

Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger had huge nights for the C’s (more on them later), while all five starters scored in double figures for Boston. Rajon Rondo was back to his old self, but Jeff Green and Avery Bradley were big contributors as well with 19 and 16 points respectively.

Bryant, of course, led the way for the Lakers. He finished with a pedestrian 22 points.

Here’s five things we learned in Boston’s victory:

TYLER ZELLER NEEDS TO REMAIN THE STARTING CENTER

Zeller was phenomenal in this game. In 17 first half minutes, he put together a near double-double with 14 points (on 7-for-8 shooting, no less) and nine boards. Zeller and Rondo have been fantastic together on the floor all season, but even more so on Friday. Five of Zeller’s seven first half field goals were assisted by Rondo. His combination of always being a pick-and-roll threat along with running the floor play perfectly into Rondo’s passing skill set.

“I think, obviously, Tyler played at a really high level,” Brad Stevens said after the win. “I felt Rondo was just so much more aggressive and comfortable being aggressive tonight and that was great. Anytime he’s probing like that, Tyler’s going to roll to the rim and be available. And Tyler’s got that nice little flip shot at five or seven feet where he can shoot it with either hand. He doesn’t have to get it all the way to the rim to finish. So Rondo looks for him and that’s a good thing.”

Zeller wound up with a game-high 24 points and 14 rebounds — probably the best game of his career. His miss in the first half turned out to be his only one, as he went 10-of-11 from the field for the night.

Friday was Zeller’s fourth start this season in place of Kelly Olynyk, and Stevens claimed before the game that it remains a temporary role. If Stevens is watching what everyone else has seen, he should officially hand the starting center job to Zeller.

After the game, Stevens was willing to concede that Zeller will in fact be the starting center when practice begins on Saturday.

RAJON RONDO BROUGHT SOME MUCH NEEDED AGGRESSION

Rondo has scored two points in each of his last three games. He recently said that he hadn’t been himself during those games. Something evidently changed between then and the start of Friday’s game. Rondo got off to a hot start, scoring six first quarter points to go along with five assists. Rondo’s impact was clear: his plus/minus was +14 when he came out of the game for the first time, while the Celtics‘ lead was trimmed to as few as three points before Rondo reentered with his team up seven.

Rondo may have even taken it too far, attempting 17 shots in the game (and making six), but his attacking style represented a noteworthy departure. Even with all the misses, Rondo turned in a pretty effective game, scoring 12 points along with eight rebounds and 16 assists. On the other side, the Lakers only had 14 assists as a team.

Stevens did speak with Rondo about breaking out of his slump prior to Friday’s game, and he felt it may have worked.

“The main one [thought about Rondo] was that I felt like he was waiting for the game to materialize around him more than just attacking the game, and so it was really good. I thought he attacked great tonight,” Stevens said. “And every time he shot it, I was like a fan saying, ‘Go in!'”

JARED SULLINGER WAS A BEAST

Sullinger’s performance was easy to lose track of behind Zeller’s big night, but the front court duo was not one to mess with against the Lakers. Sullinger brought it in the second half, scoring nine points and grabbing five rebounds in the third quarter alone.

He finished the game with an energetic and efficient 17 points on 5-for-9 shooting with 13 rebounds. Sullinger has said that starting alongside Zeller or Olynyk doesn’t matter to him, but things seem to be going pretty well at the moment. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Jared Sullinger, Rajon Rondo, Tyler Zeller,
Tyler Zeller rarely misses a shot these days 11.18.14 at 7:50 pm ET
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Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller has always had the trust of coach Brad Stevens, but his minutes have yet to put that trust on display — until Monday night.

Zeller had his coming out party in the Celtics‘ 118-114 home loss to the Suns, playing a total of 27 minutes. Although Boston came up short in the win column, Zeller surely was not at fault, while Stevens was rewarded for trusting his fellow Indiana native.

The UNC product finished Monday’s game with 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists, to go along with a block and a steal. However, it was how Zeller got those numbers that made it so impressive. Besides playing with unmatched hustle — whether is be changing a shot on the defensive end or tipping a rebound to a teammate — Zeller shot an incredibly efficient 8-for-9 from the field.

As crazy as it sounds, that has been an average game in terms of shooting the ball for Zeller this season, just in smaller samples due to playing fewer minutes.

As of Tuesday, Zeller is shooting an eye popping 25-for-29 from the field in nine games this season. That’s good for 86.2 percent — tops among players in the NBA who have attempted more than four shots on the year.

“Some of it’s [knowing what you can and can’t do],” Zeller said following the loss. “Some of it’s my teammates, again, do a great job of getting the ball to me on time where I have time to make plays.”

“Some of it’s just taking easier shots,” he added.

So, will we see any bad shots from the seven-footer this season?

“Give it time, it will happen,” joked Zeller. “But, I mean, you’ve just got to take smart shots and make the plays you can.”

In case you were wondering, Cedric Maxwell shot 60.9 percent from the field in the 1979-80 season, which is the Celtics‘ single-season record for field goal percentage.

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Celtics going young in front court, Tyler Zeller still fighting for minutes 11.06.14 at 4:14 pm ET
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Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller

Through four games this season it has been pretty clear how Celtics coach Brad Stevens intends to use his big men — he’€™s going with the young guys up front.

Veteran Brandon Bass‘€™ minutes have essentially been cut in half, as he averaged 27.6 per game last season to just 14.5 so far this year. Some of the drop off can be attributed to the three-guard lineup that Stevens has been rolling out, but the big reason is simply younger players earning themselves more minutes.

Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk are both coming off season-highs in minutes played against the Raptors on Wednesday, with 38 and 34 respectively, and the rotation is beginning to feel as if both will be playing right around 30 minutes a game.

In a game where Toronto was without both of its starting bigmen, Sullinger (19 points and 16 rebounds) and Olynyk (18 points and 13 assists) were able to feast, each finishing with a double-double.

But, another young big man has become lost in the mix — Tyler Zeller. Zeller has appeared in all four games, but is averaging just 6.7 minutes during three of those contests.

What about the fourth game?

An eight point, four rebound, two block performance against the Rockets — a game in which Zeller played 19 minutes.

The minutes likely were a product of Zeller being the best matchup against a force like Dwight Howard. Centers Brook Lopez and Jonas Valanciunas have missed games against the Celtics this season in contests against the Nets and Raptors, giving Stevens less incentive to get Zeller more time on the floor.

So will the coach simply use Zeller based on matchups this season?

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Brad Stevens, Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller,
Why you should care about Wednesday’s Celtics loss: Tyler Zeller emerged, and Evan Turner was ejected 10.15.14 at 10:00 pm ET
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Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller

On a night when Celtics coach Brad Stevens declared Kelly Olynyk “tough to unseat” for the starting center spot, Tyler Zeller broke out of his slump, converting all six of his shots and emerging as a potential solution to the C’s rim-protecting woes in a 92-89 preseason loss to the Raptors in Portland, Maine.

Zeller entered averaging 5.8 points and 3.2 rebounds with just one block in 75 total minutes. In 12 first-half minutes against Toronto, he broke out for 11 points, three boards and a trio of blocks, anchoring a 13-3 run to tie the game at the half. He finished with 13 points, four rebounds, three assists and the three blocks in 18 minutes.

The 7-footer played well off the pick-and-roll with Evan Turner, who assisted Zeller’s first four buckets, all inside of 4 feet. And the C’s enjoyed their best string of basketball with both Zeller and Olynyk (6 points, 7 rebounds) in the frontcourt.

OTHER REASONS TO CARE AOBUT CELTICS-RAPTORS:

Avery Bradley pulled a Paul Pierce. With eight seconds remaining, Bradley (13 points) made a step-back elbow jumper to tie the game at 89-89. But Lou Williams answered with a 3-pointer over Bradley with 0.6 seconds left, and Jared Sullinger’s buzzer-beating heave bounced off the back of the rim.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Tyler Zeller,
Tyler Zeller impresses Celtics teammates in training camp 10.02.14 at 2:29 pm ET
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Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller

As the Celtics continued their training camp in Waltham on Thursday, one newcomer’s performance has commanded the attention of his teammates. Tyler Zeller’s name has been the first out of many players’ mouths when asked who has impressed them most in camp this fall.

“When you ask that question, it’s got to be somebody new, so it really narrows the list down,” Zeller joked. “But it’s one of those things where it’s really an honor for somebody to say that about you. But at the same time I’ve got to continue to prove that and continue to get better.”

Brad Stevens spent time recruiting the Zeller brothers for years while at Butler — all three of them. Ironically, Tyler may have been the brother that Stevens felt he was least likely to end up coaching one day.

“When I was an assistant I recruited Luke, who is the oldest, very hard and didn’t get him,” Stevens said. “And then [I] figured out we weren’t going to get Tyler pretty quickly. And then I recruited Cody, the youngest one, probably the hardest because I had known him since I recruited Luke.”

Joked Stevens: “But clearly, if he wanted to come, I would have taken him.”

Now that Stevens got his guy, or at least one of them, he is seeing a lot of things in Zeller’s game that are going to earn him minutes in his first year in Boston.

“Like I’ve said all along, he just runs the floor,” Stevens said. “He’s a very unselfish player, he’s a smart player. He stands out because he does little things well. He’s a guy that can score on the block in the right matchup, but his strength is in beating people to spots.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Rebuild Spotlight: What to expect from Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller 09.23.14 at 10:03 pm ET
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The Celtics are coming off of their worst season since 2006-07. Despite high expectations this offseason, the team is entering 2014-15 with a similar roster to last season, which comes with similar expectations. However, Brad Stevens will be in his second season as coach, Rajon Rondo will begin the season healthy and Danny Ainge has added some new, young talent. But it’s still clear that the Celtics are entering another rebuilding season, leaving us with some major questions. We’ll try to find some answers in this five-part series called Rebuild Spotlight.

Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger are keys to the Celtics' youth movement in the frontcourt. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger are keys to the Celtics‘ youth movement in the frontcourt. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

In the minds of many, the Celtics were a relatively guard-heavy team last season. One of the main reasons Danny Ainge traded away the likes of Courtney Lee and Jordan Crawford (aside from clearing cap space and adding assets) was simply to make room for Rajon Rondo when he returned.

This season, Boston will begin the year with not only a healthy Rondo, but the additions of guards Marcus Smart, James Young, Marcus Thornton and Evan Turner to the roster. To say the least, the backcourt will be a crowded one yet again.

Brad Stevens‘ frontcourt is a far different story.

Stevens is going to need to rely heavily on young bigs to produce — Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and newcomer Tyler Zeller to be specific. Sure, guys like Brandon Bass, Joel Anthony and Vitor Faverani are still around. But the former trio provides much more youth and potential, the direction in which the C’s seem to be trending.

Take a look at how they performed on the court last season:

Sullinger: 13.3 ppg (42.7 FG%, 26.9 3P%, 77.8 FT%), 8.1 rpg, 1.6 apg , 0.7 bpg, 27.6 minutes in 74 games

Olynyk: 8.7 ppg (46.6 FG%, 35.1 3P%, 81.1 FT%), 5.2 rpg, 1.6 apg, 0.4 bpg, 20.0 minutes in 70 games

Zeller: 5.7 ppg (53.8 FG%, 71.9 FT% — attempted and missed one 3-pointer), 4.0 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.5 bpg, 15.0 minutes in 70 games

It’s worth noting that Zeller came off the bench much of last season. He posted averages of 7.9 points and 5.7 rebounds in 26.4 minutes during his rookie campaign in 2012-13.

Sullinger clearly has the most star potential of the group; it’s evident whether you are judging by the eye test or simply eyeing the numbers. Sully is locked in as the starting power forward in Boston. The question is: Can we expect to see growth from Sullinger for a second straight season? If he can find consistency, then the answer is yes.

Sullinger had 19 games in which he scored 19 or more points last season, highlighted by his 31-point, 16-rebound performance against the Kings and a 25-20 game vs. the 76ers. But Sully seemed to suffer from “Jeff Green syndrome” at times, finishing with 20 games when he was only able to score in single digits. But unlike Green, Sullinger’s inconsistencies hinged on … well, Stevens’ inconsistencies with distributing playing time.

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Read More: Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller,
Asset Management: Tyler Zeller’s Celtics future 09.12.14 at 1:05 pm ET
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I think we can all agree the Celtics won’€™t be raising banner 18 in the immediate future, and more likely than not the 2014-15 NBA season will result in another lottery pick come June, regardless of how ardently Rajon RondoAvery Bradley & Co. argue the contrary. It’€™s been a year since Danny Ainge traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, launching the process of stockpiling draft picks and cap-friendly contracts. Since the Celtics failed to cash in those commodities in exchange for fireworks this summer, this season’€™s preview will have a Wyc Grousbeck theme, focusing on the hodgepodge of C’€™s pieces in a series we’€™ll call Asset Management. Next up: Tyler Zeller.

Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller

The list of Celtics centers this season includes Tyler Zeller, Vitor Faverani and Joel Anthony, which seems like a good place to start with Zeller, since Faverani is still recovering from surgery to repair a torn left lateral meniscus and crashed his BMW hatchback into a bus this summer and Joel Anthony won last year’s Brian Scalabrine Legacy Award on a team full of worthy contenders.

Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass all have experience playing center, but the Celtics have rolled the dice with forwards starting at the 5 for far too long — since trading Kendrick Perkins, really, save for the Nenad Krstic, Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal cameos — so Zeller at least offers hope, and hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, or so says Andy Dufresne.

Where were we? Oh, yeah, Tyler Zeller of the 21-foot Zeller brother trio. He’s 24 years old, 84 inches tall and runs the floor like a gaZelle(r), which is all promising, particularly if Rondo remains his point guard. Transition dunks are fun, after all.

Offensively, Zeller improved from literally everywhere last season. After shooting an average to below-average percentage everywhere on the court but the free throw line as a rookie, his long legs took tremendous strides in 2013-14, improving as a more selective mid-range marksman and making a more concerted effort to get to the rim, where he lived during his 2012 ACC Player of the Year campaign.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Asset Management, Boston Celtics, NBA, Tyler Zeller
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